I sat in the hall and waited for my students. I watched them walk in still in their overalls. They took their seats quietly with eyes cast down. After six months of English classes with me they still didn’t look me in the eyes and I still found it hard to relate to people who wouldn’t look at me. At least they worked hard at the lessons.
Once all of them were seated I stood up. I pushed down the nerves that always reared up when I was in front of a class. This was at least something useful and meaningful. If they learned to speak English they could get a better job and their lives would improve or at least that is what I told myself. It was so unlike the day time teaching I did to overstuffed and arrogant business men. That paid for my shopping habit that Tom was so scathing about. It’s not that I used his money to fund my shopping. No I used my own.
“Good evening.” I spoke clearly and slowly.
“Good evening, Miss Samanatha.”
Still they didn’t look at me but at the board behind me with their key words for today boldly drawn in black. I pushed my thoughts away and began the class.
Fr Simon standing at the back of the hall smiling reminded me that I had run over the hour again. The men would be itching to leave as they had so little free time as it was. I sent them on their way.
The old priest walked towards me and I wanted to hide. Some how he made me feel guilty and I wasn’t even Catholic.
“Birthday greetings for tomorrow, Sam.”
“Thanks.” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.
“Low key – good.” He smiled.
“You’re after something ,Father.”
He laughed. “I am indeed. I don’t suppose you have time to teach another class. I know you already teach three but this is for a group of women.”
“That would make a change. You always seem to send me the men.”
“You can handle them.”
“Thanks.” I looked at him and couldn’t help feeling that there was more to this request. I had been teaching English classes for Fr. Simon for five years now. Where he found these people I didn’t know. None of them were Catholic but all of them needed help. This evening’s class was mostly men from Bangladesh. “When?”
“It would be early morning.”
“How early?” My mind raced to the early morning rituals. Tom didn’t mind doing the school run but was lost in himself during his morning rituals and didn’t seem capable of getting Ollie up and breakfasted.
“Confess.” I put my hand over my mouth.
“Not to you my dear.” He winked. “It would be five.”
“Five? You weren’t joking about early. Who are these women and what do they do?”
“Maids. It would be their only free time.”
My mind raced to the schedule these poor women kept. Although they were paid to my eyes many of them were treated as slaves working all hours.
“I’ll think about it.”
“Good. Call me.”
“Will do.” Yet I knew and he knew my answer. I would teach these women. If they could speak English their opportunities opened if they could manage to leave their current employers.
“Have a good day tomorrow. I will keep you in my prayers.”
“I thought you always did.”
“I do but something tells me you need them more right now.”
I slipped away before he could see the tears in my eyes. Blasted old man could see far too much. I almost ran to my car. I didn’t see the damn traffic as I drove home. Ollie would be tucked up in bed and asleep. I could go straight to Becca’s. I needed a drink. Tom wouldn’t be waiting for me. He’d be working on his lap top oblivious to my presence in the house.
“Knew you would come.” Becca held a glass of champagne out to me.
“Surprise!” shouted ten of my girlfriends in unison.
“You idiots!” More tears broke through. My head swung from one face to another.
“We thought you needed champagne and a rich dark chocolate cake to prepare you for life as a forty year old.” Becca pointed to the most decadent cake I had ever seen.
“Bring it on. I sure as hell need something.” I took the knife and sliced through making a wish. I just wanted to go back ten years to when Tom and I were a real couple and not the shell that we are now. Well, there was no hope in hell in that happening but the cake looked divine.
The knife was grabbed from my hand I was shepherded into the sitting room and pushed into a chair. A table was filled with gloriously coloured parcels.
“Hey, guys, I thought we agreed we were going to forget this birthday.” I pleaded with all the laughing faces around me.
“Not on your life girl. You need to embrace this decade.”
“Yes, the best is yet to come.”
I could only wish they were right but I knew they weren’t. The first parcel was placed in my hands.
“Rip it open girl. Don’t keep us waiting.”
I looked up and wondered what they had up there sleeve. Was I going to find a batch of age creams I wondered?
“Peggy, what on earth you expect me to do with this?” I held up the skimpiest piece of fabric that could only just be called knickers.
“Flaunt your stuff in front of Tom!”
“I don’t think he will notice.”
“If not then you need this.”
I was handed another box to open. I shook it.
“No trying to guess.”
I tore the paper off and delved in to the tissue to pull out the biggest vibrator I had ever seen. My hand shook.
“Who will own up to giving me this?” I waved the object in the air as hoots of laughter abounded. “Come on? Sue, you handed me the box?”
“It wasn’t me.”
I turned the damned thing on, passed it round then downed my champagne. They meant well but had no idea.